In case you haven’t noticed, we go by the pistachio rule when acquiring pets. One is just never enough. Which is all well and good – until someone gets sick.
While cleaning out the coop one morning, I saw a pale pinkish-red tint that soaked through several layers of newspapers and paper towels. Not the color you want to see with chickens. Blood is never a good sign, of course, but in the poultry world, it can be especially alarming. Chickens follow a coldly efficient protocol of natural selection: they are particularly attracted to the color red, and the slightest injury can cause a bird to be pecked to death by the rest of the flock.
None of the girls appeared to be injured, though, and all three were happily feasting on their breakfast course of bugs under the hydrangeas. I’ve read enough about chickens to know that behavior can be misleading, however. Because birds face so many predators in the wild, they are proficient at “keeping up appearances” and will often appear to be in perfect health right up to the moment they keel over from illness or injury.
I had noticed that Hope had not laid for a few days, which was highly unusual, so I zeroed in on her as the most likely victim. But with no apparent external injuries, I went where no one really wants to go: on an exploration of Hope’s nether regions. Bingo! Again, my chicken lit research paid off, because I knew exactly what I was looking at: prolapse. Not a pretty sight! Prolapse is not all that unusual in a laying hen at peak production, which would describe our year-old flock. A common cause of prolapse can be eggbinding – an eggbound hen is one that is unable to properly form or expel an egg, usually caused by lack of calcium. This is why oyster shell is a vital supplement for laying hens, but I always make sure our girls have an ample supply, so that couldn’t be the problem. And there was no blood coming from Hope’s prolapse, so I was stumped.
I called around and luckily found a local veterinarian who treats chickens. By the day of our appointment, Hope’s prolapse seemed to have corrected, so there was some question as to which chicken was in distress. We rounded up Amelia for good measure, and also grabbed Birdie on the way out the door, as he had never had a proper vet check in all his 12 or 13 years.
We were quite the curiosity in the Cat & Bird clinic waiting room. Family with pet cat, check. Gentleman with a rescued macaw, check. Woman with canary, check. And then, us with two loudly protesting hens and a confounded cockatiel. Why must we always be the roving spectacle?
Amelia was first up, and passed her exam with “flying” colors, so to speak. She weighed in at a whopping 7.7 pounds, by the way. Then it was Hope’s turn, and, indeed, she was the one with a problem. The vet explained that Hope’s shell gland, which is the equivalent to a human uterus, was inflamed, which indicated infection. Indeed, this is another cause of prolapse: a very helpful article at http://www.avianweb.com/Prolapse.htm states that “cloacal prolapse is also contributed to by uterine or cloacal infection that makes the area irritated and causes straining, resulting in expulsion of the cloaca.” The vet prescribed antibiotics and an anti-inflammatory. You really haven’t lived until you’ve pried open a chicken’s beak to administer pills, but then, we have a cat on Prozac so nothing really surprises me anymore…
Untreated, an infection of this type can lead to scarring of the shell gland and/or fallopian tubes, which will put an end to a hen’s laying career. Since we acted quickly, ten days of antibiotics should clear everything up and Hope will be good as new. We won’t have as many eggs to share for awhile, however, since it is generally recommended to discard a hen’s eggs during antibiotic treatment.
Lastly, we presented Birdie for a quick look and a toenail clip. Turns out we should have brought some pink nail polish, because after all these years of referring to Birdie as “he”, the vet told us definitively that ours is a female cockatiel. Lutino cockatiels are notoriously hard to sex, so I knew this was a possibility and had been given conflicting opinions through the years as to Birdie’s gender. On one hand, male cockatiels often talk and Birdie never has, but on the other hand, female cockatiels lay eggs, and Birdie has never done that, either. According to the vet, it’s the yellow spots on the underside of Birdie’s feathers that tell the story.
I also worked up the courage to ask the vet her opinion on the life expectancy for Birdie. I purchased him (sorry, I’m not ready to institute the pronoun changes yet) as an anniversary gift for the CE many years ago, assuming a lifespan similar to that of a parakeet. Too bad I didn’t do better homework – the vet said Birdie will live 30 years, give or take, so he/she is not even at the halfway point! Time to write Birdie into our will, I guess.